Sailing the Mediterranean with MSC Cruises

MSC Cruise Line (3)Although not a household name in America MSC Cruises is one of the world’s largest cruise lines and offers cruises to a wide variety of destinations from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and even to the Orient. With my previous experience only being US cruise lines, however, my introduction to MSC came out of convenience.  Because I knew my goal for 2016 Spring Break was to take a cruise in the Mediterranean the options were limited. As the weather in the Mediterranean at this time is not the warmest in March I found many of the cruise lines I was familiar with did not offer the Mediterranean route at that time.  So MSC Cruises quickly became my first and only choice for my adventure.MSC Cruise Line (4)

MSC Cruises managed to deliver a mix of both comfort and luxury in a wealth of offerings that was honestly too much for me to explore on this first trip. Setting off on an adventure is normally invigorating, however the plane, train and automobile it took me to get on the boat wore me out!  Being Jet Lagged is a beast and with daily ports in some really amazing locations it is easy to get busy with the things there are too do off the boat.  Still in really taking the time to explore I was able to find a little bit of everything making it a spot on choice for family entertainment.  From shows to gambling to fantastic swimming pools there was always an option for how to spend your time while on the ship.  With a full list of activities on the daily rooster it almost becomes difficult to remind yourself that vacationing does require some rest and relaxation on the list.

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Here is the quick roundup of some of the most important components of MSC Cruises:

MSC Cruise Line (5)Dining: Throughout my seven days I had what felt like an authentic variety of Mediterranean and European options. Certainly there were days that were a little more of what I like to eat, like this delicioso lobster, but every day there were some basic staples that you could choose like salads and soups.  Each meal had a variety of courses so even if one missed the mark you still left the table feeling satisfied.

Entertainment: The full on theatre show I was only able to catch once but it was a full on dancing and singing spectacle. Each night offered two main stage professional shows as well as a kids dance competition that lasted throughout the sailing.  For me what was a little more accessible was the entertainment throughout the ship from singing to dance lessons.  This is a great way to hop in and be involved as you wander the ship and stay as long (or as little) as you like.  Of course the casino also had a big pull for me but what probably pulled me the quickest was the nightly BINGO games!  If shows are not your speed there was also dance parties in a couple of locations as well as a sports bar and small bowling alley.  In room entertainment was a little more limited as the channels were primarily not English and those that did show in English were all news channels.  After purchasing the Wi-Fi, however, I was able to master Netflix and Chill while finishing our cruise.

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Beauty: Time did not allow for a full spa visit but the sauna options on the cruise were right on point. I avoided the crowd with morning and evening visits to make sure I got a chance to unwind in between all the sightseeing.  I was able to get a pretty good product demonstration including facial while on the cruise and highly recommend it.  Not only did I love the products it is a great use of time during your sea day without breaking the bank.

MSC Cruise Line (6)Pools: When I was planning for a vacation where the temperatures did not even peak in the 70’s, swimming was pretty far from my mind. Once I got on board, however, and realized just how many of the pools were either indoor or offered a hot tub option I had to stop immediately and join in on the fun.  Although there was a pretty big demand at the indoor pools I am sure with the summer months the outdoor pools get a lot of action.  No matter the time of year however, the view of the water from the pools on the top decks is phenomenal.

Customer Service: Perhaps my favorite part of this cruise line was the staff. Everyone was friendly and willing to help.  As I celebrated my birthday on the ship the chocolate covered strawberries were a great night cap and ended an amazing day on a high note.  With the international staff I was able to hear a little about destinations all over the world and they made sure to point me in the right direction and keep a smile on my face.

All in all I really enjoyed my MSC experience!!!  The great attitudes and attention of the staff definitely would have me check out a MSC cruise all over again.

Touring the Blue Mountains for the nature side of Sydney

Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (5)One thing I knew in deciding to take a trip as far as Australia, I wanted to get in everything I could during my visit so of course seeing the Outback was high on my to do list.  Although not exactly the Outback I envisioned from growing up watching Crocodile Dundee, I was able to dive into some of the culture, history and natural beauty of more developed portions of Australia by Touring the Blue Mountains.

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (3) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (2)The Blue Mountains are a beautiful part of Australia that provides the chance to take on the challenge of exploring the great outdoors.  From state forests to botanical gardens and even waterfalls the area offers a more unchanged vision of Australia.  The Blue Mountains are located about an hour away from Sydney by car so we decided to make the trek using a touring service.  Given the popularity of the destination there are a lot of tours offering the service so you can go with the best price or best amenities.  For us we wanted something a little smaller and with included features like scones and breakfast in the morning and lunch we found our fit with Blue Diamond.  Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (1)It was a sharp contrast to the full buses of visitors to the same attractions but for a little bit more we found the comfort and amenities of the tour to provide both a luxurious and comfortable trip to the Blue Mountains.

The worlds steepest train at Scenic World in the Blue MountainsWithin minutes of heading out of Sydney you clearly see some of the rustic allure of the Blue Mountains.  This old world charm ran throughout our first stop for warm scones and continued as we approached Scenic World.  This park in the Blue Mountains combines the heritage of the area with some new world attractions.  For the true nature lover you have a chance to descend the stairs into the rainforest and for those who want a bit of fun scenic world has to offer attractions such as the Skyway, Cableway and Railway should be right up your alley.  With a claim to fame as the world’s steepest railway, the train should not be missed.  Not only do you get a great view, the steep descent is very much like a roller coaster.  Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (6) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (5) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (4) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (7) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (8) Scenic World in the Blue Mountains (9)Once you arrive at the bottom you get a chance to explore the way miners lived and worked and use the walkway to explore some of the rainforest that explore the area.  I love being able to take nature walks and with ancient trees, exotic birds, and lush canopy all around it was a great place to relax and enjoy nature with the family.

Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (4)As our tour stayed a steady pace ahead of the larger tour buses we head to lunch with some brief scenic stops of the 3 Sisters Rock formation before we arrived at one of the main tour highlights, Featherdale Wildlife Park.  There is no way I was leaving Australia without having my chance to get up close and personal with some of the wildlife that Australia is known for: Koalas and Kangaroos.  There are few places close to Sydney to get an up close and personal experience with these animals than Featherdale National Park.  You are literally surrounded by Koalas and Wallabys as you get to feed and pet these cuddly creatures.  Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (3) Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains (2)My daughter was convinced of her connection with one, although I suspect the ready supply of ice cream cones and food had something to do with the love.  Even the sleepy koala, that naps about 20 hours a day, was present and awake for our Featherdale Tour.  From alligators to bats to Tasmanian Devils the park showcased the natural wildlife Australia has to offer.

As we were whisked away in our small Mercedes van just as the tour buses descended and headed to the ferry we enjoyed one last view of the beauty, charm, and authentic experience found in a tour of the Blue Mountains.

 

 

 

 

Travel Recap: SLS Miami promises and delivers on a luxury experience

Shots at SLS MiamiI will happily admit that I like my share of luxury.  Although luxury is often defined in hefty price tags and exclusive settings, when you walk away what you are left with after a luxury experience how the experience made you feel.  Even the most expensive item feels pretty cheap if you walk away feeling you were not treated as lavishly as the price tag.  In almost every case of an encounter with true luxury the people define just what that experience is.  At my most recent stay at the SLS Miami I was once again reminded that the beautiful location, hip décor, and party atmosphere was just the appetizer for the main course in luxury: the superb service from a great staff. Shots and us at SLS Miami

I am not stranger to fun at the SLS Miami.  Once it opened in Miami I heard pretty quickly of the fun that went on at Hyde.  There is no question that if you are looking for a true Miami experience Hyde is a great place to start.  Just the people watching along gives you ringside seats to some of the beautiful people and crazy times that Miami has to offer.  SLS Miami Hyde poolsideThe day party always promises a good time with music that makes the hotel the envy of the block when approaching the hotel from the beach.  Although the hotel offers all of the Miami decadence one could want, you also have the choice in your experience to turn up or turn down to make your luxury experience everything YOU want it to be.  As I am always on a chase for balance I like that the choice is indeed mine as I enjoyed time relaxing on the beach and poolside in luxurious cabanas and lounges that define fun in the sun for me. SLS Miami beachside

Regardless of if my choice is party or relaxing, I am always pleasantly surprised by the exceptional service the hotel has to offer.  Everyone I encountered went above and beyond to make sure I was having a great time from the second the cab pulled up and I was escorted to my room.  Each member of the staff taking the couple of extra steps, giving those extra smiles and genuine conversations that make you feel like you are more around old friends than a guest at the hotel.  By the end of my trip I always walk around feeling well taking care of ready for my next visit.  When in Miami there are a ton of luxury hotels, but the welcoming staff at the SLS Miami always come through with setting themselves apart from the crowd in delivering on a fantastic experience. SLS Miami walk to the beach

Picutres courtesy of SLS Miami

 

 

 

 

Class and Comfort at the Westin Georgetown

Westin Georgetown Caucus Room George town view 2On my most recent trip to DC I got a chance to stay in Georgetown for my cousin’s wedding and was pleasantly surprised by the Westin Georgetown.  The Westin Georgetown offered a strong showing of class without the pretentiousness that can make a nice hotel a little too uptight.  Any hotel in Georgetown has a lot to live up to. The area is known for its old neighborhoods and even older money and with the metro not servicing the area it can seem a little out of the way.  Westin Georgetown LobbyI found the location to be perfect, however, as you could quickly access some of the fun and liveliness of other areas like the U street corridor while still being nestled in a serene yet active neighborhood.  I love to be out and about when out of town and the location forced me to second guess getting out and really made my vacation a relaxing one.  The Georgetown area still has a wide array of shops and stores and restaurants and the nearby waterfront offered another level in options when I surveyed what there was to do while I was in DC.

Westin Georgetown Pool view from roomThe Westin Georgetown offered all of the great nuances I have come to expect from a Westin, no matter where I am.  Luxury features like their dream shower head and bathrobes always set the stage for fun at the Westin and the Westin Georgetown met and exceeded my expectations with their friendly staff and beautifully appointed room.  The view with the pool had my daughter thrilled to be there and the courtyard was the perfect place to enjoy a sunny day or nightcap after a long day sightseeing.  Westin Georgetown Caucus room top view Westin Georgetown Caucus Room Entrance Westin Georgetown Boveda 3 Westin Georgetown Boveda 1 Westin Georgetown Caucus Room insideTo put a cherry on top of the great location, amenities, and people the fun was dynamite.  From room service to late night snacks to their great restaurants I was stuffed the whole stay.  The Caucus Room Brasserie served as a cool venue for my cousins welcome reception with great finger foods and a warm environment that got everyone comfortable and talking.  Boveda really made my day by serving a classic Caipirinha (my Rio favorite) and the fun vibe and weekly free salsa lessons had me wishing I could extend my stay for a couple of days.  All in all the hotel offered superior quality mixed with definite comfort that made the hotel a winner in my book.

Road trips with the amigos: Texas Edition

Two pretty happy girls in the car. Concept of carefree roadtripRoad trips within reach: Summer is upon us and with that brings the need to recharge with some fun in the sun.  One of my must do’s in every summer vacation planning is a getaway with friends.   Something about my mandatory Pina colada along with a good mix of friends and relaxation takes away some of the stress of being an adult.  As a kid summer means hanging out with friends, relaxing and goofing off and bringing that in the mix as an adult brings back some of the energy and enthusiasm of being a kid.  The challenge is in the coordination and the cost that can come with getting your friends mobile for a getaway.  A key trick can be to keep the party close, but not too close to where you can’t really escape what happens on a daily basis.  Keeping your getaway options to things close enough to drive but far enough to be out of the city are key to a jam packed getaway with friends.  If you are from Houston or in the Texas area here are some fun options for your friend’s getaway.

Austin: Austin is a town that wears many hats: from college town to hill country or just plain weird.   a The range of options of fun Austin offers helps bring everyone together and then have everyone all wind down in their own way.  Few cities give you the options to take it as slow and focus on relaxing in the day with the drastic change of the jam packed night options that Austin gives.  Check out the hill country to relax but head into downtown for some of the night fun.

New Orleans: New Orleans is known as a party city that may not be for the faint of heart.  Anyplace I can get a frozen drink at the mall is a good place for me, but for those more on the conservative side New Orleans is a haven for history that can really take you away to a whole other world.  Between bayou tours, casinos and cemeteries there should be something for everyone even outside the nightlife.  Don’t forget the food!!! A requirement to handle the drinking intake but even without the drinks the food array in New Orleans provides some exceptional cuisine you are unlikely to find elsewhere in the country.

San Marcos: if your emphasis is on sun then San Marcos is the premier beach destination in Texas.  Given the size of the state it may take you as long to get there as going out of state but the trip gives a chance to do something else that is equally as fun, really enjoy a road trip with friends.  On the road in college we would load up on junk food and our favorite CDs to murder on the ride up.  Having some dedicated time to explore and talk helps you remind you that in good company getting there can be more than half the fun.

Dallas: Dallas offers a great urban escape that showcases the more metropolitan version of Texas.  There is an opportunity to take it slow at places like the Botanical Gardens but also a wide range of bars and clubs.  It gives a new spin on Texas but also provides some of the big Texas mainstays such as great food and landscape.

Lake Charles: I am not a big gambler but with the concentration of gambling and money comes accommodations to attract those gamblers.  Lake Charles has become a meca for gambling getaways and the hotels offer the music and food that comes as a part of the package even if you do not gamble.  L’Auberge is my favorite spot to getaway as the pool and food are top notch and help me to forget that I don’t gamble.  The people there are always ready to have a good time and it makes it easy for good times to roll

Wherever you getaway to time away with friends is a great way to get some concentrated love and support that makes friends invaluable to your battery recharge process.